Last season the Panthers failed to qualify for the post-season once again. They lost there most popular player, and changed coach’s and GM’s. Yet most fans will agree with me that they are better than last years team.
The main reason this team should be better is that there will not be a super-star around to attract all the attention. With P.Bure on the team, there was a lot of expectations and worries from the media and other NHL fans. But this season they are younger and will be able to play with ease. But by non means will they be slacking off either, management and the coaching staff still have hopes for this young team to be pushing for a playoff spot.
It all starts in net for this young team and once agian the should-be-all-star Roberto Loungo will be filling the #1 hole. Last season he played amazing. His magnificent season was ruined by a season ending ankle sprain. The team has said it is healed and will be ready for the start of camp. The back-up job will likely be held again by Trevor Kidd. Kidd had a horrable year last season and hopes to look to re-bound from it. Some fans thought he might have been bought out of his $2mil. a season contract that had one year left on it, but instead talked it over with management and settled for a pay cut. A true team player. Also looking to take the back-up role is journey man Wade Flathery. Wade put up sparkling numbers in Uath (AHL) last season and was called up to play a few games when Loungo went down. Should be a good battle between Kidd and Flathery.
The most improved and brightest spot in the club after the off-season is the blueline. For years the defense on Florida has been below NHL average. After aquiring Ozo, Ulanov, Yushky, Mezie the blueline looks much better than it did traning camp 2001. The loss of Svhela will lie in the hands of Yushcavich. That means a lot of minutes to eat up, PP and PK time, and much needed leadership; all of what I think Yushky can handle. Ozolinsh suprised many Florida fans with his offensive play. I talked to a few Hurricane fans right after the trade and they said the way he was playing for them, they didn’t care if they got anyone back, they just did not want him on their team anymore. But when Ozo arrived in sunny Florida he was on fire the rest of the year and was in the top of defenseman in the league for scoring. Considering Ozo and Yushky have spots that leaves 4 spots open for Bowmeester, Ulanov, Krajicek, Mezie, Ferance, Ward, Laus, Butenschon. So as you can see training camp this year will be especially important with some close calls to make.
Yushcavich – Ozolinsh
That brings us to the offense. The team lost a valuable leader this offseason when the team shipped Jason Wiemer to Long Island. The team felt that they had enough centre’s and could not pass up on the bright prospect Mezie. Leading the way this year should be Huslieus and V.Bure. Huslieus had a great rookie year and looks to re-bound after a average second half due to a stomach infection in which he lost 10 lbs. V.Bure also looks to re-bound after knee surgury that forced him to miss the first half of the season. Recently signed RFA Victor Kozlov looks like once again he will be the #1 season. Like Bure he looks to re-bound after a sports hernia halted his season to an end. Look for the young Ivan Novoseltsev to have a better year. He is the mold of a young Pavel Bure and should produce better with the more ice time left by P.Bure.The most notable of the forwards playing for a position this training camp will be Stephan Wiess. The #4 overall pick in 2001 will look to build on the little bit of NHL time he gained at the end of the season to help get him a roster spot. There is still lots of desicions to be made but this is the probable offensive lineup for next season.
It is still early for roster line-ups for this team, but so far it looks as though anything can happen with the defense and the offense still has some prospects to take a good look at. The 2002-2003 season should be a lot of fun as Panther fans will get to watch this young team grow.